BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Asian Network: Bangladesh at 40

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Rifat Jawaid | 17:56 UK time, Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Next week the BBC Asian Network (AN) will dedicate a week's programming to mark the 40th anniversary of Bangladesh's independence.

Bangladesh at 40

On Monday 12 December, the AN team will leave for Bangladesh for two special outside broadcasts from Dhaka. The team will also join various programmes across the BBC to report on the celebrations of a landmark occasion in the history of this young republic.

As an editor on this project, it's been a challenge to oversee the resources spent on sending the team to Dhaka. I was convinced that we needed as many BBC stakeholders on board as possible.

It took a few email exchanges with the BBC London's Managing Editor David Robey and a subsequent meeting with a couple of his colleagues to get the most listened-to BBC local radio station to join our editorial plan. I hoped it would be hard for David and his team to ignore the opportunity to tap into what could be a sizeable audience in the Tower Hamlets area of east London.

It's worth mentioning that while British Bangladeshis constitute less than 1% of the UK population, their impact on the population at large has been profound. According to one statistic, this ethnic group - half a million British Bangladeshis - is responsible for 70-80% of the UK's 12,000 so-called Indian curry houses. And its influence on the wider British population hasn't been confined to our palates.

You only have to trawl through your wardrobe and it may spring a few surprises; I should know! Only the other day I bought some designer baby clothes as a gift for a friend in Bangladesh only to be told that they were "made in Bangladesh". That's how prevalent goods made in Bangladesh have become on our High Streets.

With this episode fresh in my mind, I was optimistic of a positive reaction from Stephen Mawhinney, BBC Radio 5 live's Head of News. And positive he was. Soon I heard from the station's breakfast show editor Scott Solder and the Up All Night team, both of whom were keen to use the services of my team.

I'm excited that my small initiative has fostered an editorial partnership with 5 live. The phrase "value for money" may be a cliche to some, but our approach has allowed me to be a part of some big editorial initiatives with next to no costs. Clever collaborations - within and outside the BBC - are the way forward in these straitened times.

The plan is for Gagan Grewal, one of our flagship presenters, to join 5 live Breakfast and BBC London's breakfast programmes live from Dhaka. On the day of the celebrations (16 December), Gagan will also join the Asian Network's breakfast show briefly before co-hosting part of our mid-morning programme presented by Sonia Deol.

Our pan-BBC partnerships don't end there. Our news team has commissioned a series of special reports from Bangladesh to be played every day during the week. Topics include a the growing phenomenon of reverse migration and how impoverished Bangladeshi children are being trained to survive the fury of floods and cyclones with Olympics money. The story on reverse migration will first be aired on The One Show on 13 December.

We kickstart our Bangladesh at 40 week with a specially commissioned documentary presented by former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq, who is herself of Bangladeshi origin.

In true multimedia spirit, we aim to make most of the reports available on video across various BBC platforms. They include the Asian Network's website, BBC News Online, the video-on-demand site, South Asia online and the 2012 site among others.

We end our coverage with two outside broadcasts from Dhaka on 18 December. One promises to be groundbreaking as it will be the first time the Asian Network has simulcast any of its shows with a commercial radio partner. I originally mooted the idea of a simulcast with Betar Bangla, a relatively new Bengali community radio station in east London, with some long-term gains for both partners in mind.

Nearly half of the 3.5 million British Asians live in London. But as a digital station, the Asian Network has no analogue presence in the capital, an impediment to the aim of growing our reach across the capital.

Partnering with Betar Bangla will allow a big audience group in London to hear our output on an accessible platform - otherwise known as medium wave. In return, Betar Bangla will see a significant improvement in their output as we're committed to providing regular training to their presenters, helping them to become a more truly professional radio station.

Rifat Jawaid is editor of South Asian language programmes at the BBC Asian Network

By boat in Bangladesh

Rifat Jawaid | 14:59 UK time, Thursday, 8 November 2007

In less than 50 years time the rise in sea level could wipe out the area of Bangladesh bigger than Scotland in size displacing 17-20 millions of people. At least this is what we are led to believe by the Geneva-based Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

BBC Asian Network logoAnd going by their new status of the joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007, we simply can't afford to take the credibility of their report less seriously.

The IPCC's predictions are chilling and I'm not surprised that the BBC World Service’s Bengali output wasted no time in weaving a radical editorial plan around this subject. Nazes Afroz (executive editor, South Asia region of World Service) approached me a couple of months ago and enquired if the BBC Asian Network too would be interested in joining hands on a project that would involve a boat journey through the rivers of Bangladesh. I was never going to say ‘no’ to this tempting offer largely for two, or should I say three, reasons.

First, I was pleased to know that the Asian Network will only have to pay towards their travel costs if we decided to send a team on the boat. The rest, including the expenses on accommodation and the use of technical equipments such as the ISDN lines and satellite phones to broadcast live shows will be taken care of by the organisers.

Panel of Bangladesh politicians in front of BBC boatIt was very comforting because the BBC Asian Network, as most of you would know, isn't a radio network awash with cash and the recent cuts in the news department across the BBC hasn't done any good towards our future ambitions to cover big news. Though, personally I've always believed that despite being a music radio station we ought to take the complete ownership of every big South Asian news story.

Yes, we should be bigging up Bollywood because it's hugely popular amongst the young British Asians. We must also work hard towards establishing our identity as a national radio station, which is a home to the British Asian music. But, we shouldn't also lose sight of our commitments towards covering big news especially from South Asia.

So, I was explaining the reasons why I found Nazes' offer irresistible. This came at a time when the Asian Network is busy finding ways to make inroads into the huge British Bangladeshi population mainly in the Brick Lane area of London. As the BBC Asian Network's languages editor, I've long been on the look-out for any editorial opportunity that will enable us to maximise our reach in London. And the boat show on climate change provided me a perfect excuse to reach this community in east London.

This is because like any other ethnic minorities, the Bangladeshi community in Britain is closely connected to their roots and destruction in their homeland is bound to affect their lives here as well.

The third and the most important reason being the subject itself. It's not just any climate change story that you often see scientists drumming home the message about. If the impact is anything close to what the IPCC's predictions suggest, then we're in for a great ecological disaster. As well as destroying the lives of nearly 20 million people, the rise in sea level at the Bay of Bengal by a metre would mean losing the whole of Sundarbans - the largest mangrove forest in the world and the natural habitat for Royal Bengal Tigers.

I think James Sales, who I know from my World Service days, has done a great job by single-handedly taking this project to fruition. I'm told that it was James who first mooted the idea of this boat show to create awareness on climate change amongst the poverty stricken Bangladeshis.

As I write the BBC-branded boat MV Aboshor is busy cruising along the various rivers of Bangladesh. My team consisting of Gagan Grewal (presenter), Rayhan Rahman (broadcast assistant) and yours truly will fly out to Dhaka next Tuesday to do a day-long special live programme from the boat on November 16.

Sceptics may continue to question the reality of climate change, but I'm glad that what started as a casual conversation in the corridors of Bush house (home to World Service) has now become a massive pan-BBC project. I'm sure it will go a long way in combating the threat posed by the climate change in the Indian sub-continent.

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